A Look Back in History: San Francisco in 1939 “Fair” in the Air

In 1939, the U.S. hosted two major fairs, an East Coast Fair at Flushing Meadow in New York and a West Coast Fair in San Francisco.

The San Francisco fair – officially called the Golden Gate International Exhibition (GGIE) – was a feature of the culmination of the great construction projects of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, and of the “longest suspension bridge in the world across San Francisco Bay” of course referring to the western portion of the Bay Bridge.

In addition, the location for the GGIE was the equally remarkable 400-acre, man-made Treasure Island built out of Sierra rock and bay tidal mud. The structures and lay-out of the GGIE were designed by the same San Francisco architects who had created the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, and it was a highly anticipated event by locals (and beyond).

San Francisco’s Fiesta Week 1939 Revelers on the Roof of 425 Mason Street, SFPUC Headquarters.

Author Richard Reinhardt was a youth on the brink of his teenage years at that time and gleefully anticipated and attended the GGIE. Fifty years later, he was one among a group that were interviewed to provide memories of that glorious event. And, he also wrote an article for American Heritage magazine in which he provides an amusing expansion on the region’s response to Fiesta Week of 1939.

“As opening day [of the GGIE] approached, the press agents tormented us with previews of coming attractions. A young woman in shorts and boots and a skull-and-crossbones hat prowled the country, posing for pictures at horse shows and apple festivals. (All of this somehow related to the piratical traditions of Treasure Island, and newspaper editors loved those bare legs.) Towns around the bay decreed a week of fiesta. Teachers and clerks were wearing sidearms and sombreros, and the playground supervisors at our school had to confiscate an unusual number of cap pistols.”

Reinhardt’s 1989 piece provides a look-back at the fair, at the San Francisco Bay Region atmosphere of that era, at world political machinations underway at the same time, at the delight and playfulness of a boyhood of that era, and of the musings of a long since grown man ruminating on these things through fifty years of perspective.